Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

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Junior Seau
Junior Seau's suicide shocked everyone who pays attention to the NFL.

If the NFL wants a case study on how not to handle tragic situations involving past and current players, it should look no further than professional wrestling.

Here’s a small sample of well-known professional wrestlers who have died before the age of 50 since 1997: Bam Bam Biggelow, Eddie Guerrero, The Big Bossman, Hercules, Crash Holly, Road Warrior Hawk, Ms. Elizabeth, Mr. Perfect, Davey Boy Smith, Chris Benoit, Yokozuna, Chris Kanyon, Ravashing Rick Rude, Louie Spicolli and Brian Pillman.

All of those wrestlers died from suicide, drug overdoses, or health complications that many speculate were caused by years of abusing drugs, painkillers, steroids and/or alcohol.

If you used to watch wrestling, or just tolerated it while your kids or spouse watched it, chances are you recognize many of those names.

Now think back to your favorite Packers players from the 80s and 90s. What if 15 of them were dead, all before the age of 50, many from suicide, drug overdoses or health complications (likely) caused by abusing drugs and alcohol?

We’d be shocked, right? We’d probably ask questions about the Packers’ culture. We’d want to know if there were warning signs, or if management could have done something to help these guys before they went over the edge. The media would do all sorts of exposes and law enforcement might event get involved. We would demand answers. Then we’d demand changes.

At least I hope we would. I’d like to think that we wouldn’t be so blinded by wins and loses that we’d forget these guys are human beings. But because I’m an avid pro wrestling fan, sometimes I wonder.

I know comparing wrestling to football is apples and oranges. — one is choreographed violence and the other is a legitimate (and aggressive) sport — but wrestling fans have done little over the years to question the wrestling powers-that-be about why so many of their wrestlers die so young.

Chris Benoit murdering his family and then killing himself finally brought some attention to the subject, but for the most part, wrestling fans pay little attention to what happens outside of the ring as long as the Rock is delivering People’s Elbows or Stone Cold Steve Austin is chugging beers inside of it.

Junior Seau’s suicide this week shocked everyone who pays attention to the NFL. Seau was an NFL star that both old and new fans recognized and admired. We saw his enthusiasm on the field and his personality off of it and thought he was invincible. Then he killed himself.

Immediately, people blamed concussions. Or depression caused by concussion. Or steroids. Or mood swings caused by steroids. Or suddenly being out of the spotlight. Or depression and mood swings caused by being out of the spotlight. We see it almost every time something tragic happens. People want answers, and they want them now.

Eventually the extreme emotional reaction calms a bit. That’ll happen in the Seau case, too. Training camp will start up, then the regular season, and we’ll be caught up in football season once again.

As football fans, I hope we don’t mimic wrestling fans and mostly turn a blind eye and forget about Seau and other NFL players that have taken their own lives. Ditto for the concussion issue and the transitioning-from-NFL-star-to-regular-person issue.

Football fans have an opportunity to hold the NFL accountable and make sure it addresses issues that affect the long-term health of its current and former players. We need to make sure we do it.

For several reasons, I think we will. People take football seriously. They develop a (sometimes creepy) bond with players on their favorite teams. Most people, including many fans, view wrestling as a sideshow or something that allows them to turn their brains off for a few hours. The out-of-the-ring connection isn’t there with wrestlers like it is with football players.

I’m not saying that we should quit watching football or boycott the NFL because of player wellness issues. If we ignored forms of entertainment simply because the culture surrounding it was questionable, we’d probably never watch a movie, go to a concert or attend a sporting event ever again. And I understand that we’re talking about adults. Grown men are responsible for making their own decisions. It’s not Roger Goodell’s or Vince McMahon’s job to babysit every player and wrestler to make sure they’re not doing drugs or becoming emotionally unstable.

But they can provide tools and resources to help players address these issues. For the NFL, these steps include continuing to improve player safety, providing adequate health coverage for current and former players and offering assistance on transitioning out of the NFL.

Professional wrestling waited way too long to take these steps. The NFL already is light years ahead of wrestling. Let’s hope it continues heading in the right direction.

Many of us fork over big bucks so we can follow our favorite teams. We’re more than happy to do this because we love the NFL and want to see it continue, maybe even grow. By holding the league accountable and asking it to invest in the well-being of its players, we’re making sure we preserve the game, and the human beings that play it, for the long-term.

Final Thoughts
I got a little carried away and deep with that intro. It’s hard to link to stories about draft picks and make witty comments about Packers news after writing 850 words about suicide, dead wrestlers and concussions. I think I’ll end this edition of Surviving Sunday early.

RIP Junior Seau.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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  • Barry

    while i agree with everything-1 small point to remember-this article holds the NFL solely responsible where as, we start playing in pee wee leagues, then HS the college. Yes NFL has most money and can probably afford to pay for umbrella policy for for former player mental health concerns-College probably can also afford some.Also who can tell if in reality when the majority of damage was done-cant believe for instance that the equipment we use as kids actually does any good. Plus most of us played games with no equuipment-I know i got my bell rung probably 30 times playing back yard ball.
    It isnt just NFL players-i can assure u there are jobs out here who get head injuries alot even with hard hats on and we rcv no special care for us either.

    • Mojo

      Good point Barry in bringing up that many NFL players may have had concussions beginning in Pee-Wee and through college. Or you could have had them playing in the backyard too. I think this will be a big part of the NFL’s defense.

      It also brings up the point if the future of the NFL is in trouble due to concussions, what about the NHL, NBA, soccer or other sports where concussions occur?

      Which brings me up to a related point I wonder if this site would consider as a future topic. Since many of Jersey Al posters have played at some level in the past would they have played tackle football knowing what they know now? Also, do any of the posters think the future of the NFL is in jeopardy?

      • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

        That’s a real good question, Mojo. For myself, I’d say I’d probably still play, but would be mush more awarusing my helmet as a weapon, which is pretty much what we all did back then…

        • Adam Czech

          I’d definitely still play. And I’d have no problem allowing my children to play if they wanted to.

  • Ron LC

    A very impactful article Adam. It certainly makes me think about the future of the game I love. Since playing football as a small boy in grade school, in high school and on a US Army team, every year my love of this game grew. Now the lawyers are circling the carcass waiting to feed on the work of others. I’m afraid, very afraid.

  • super yooper

    I almost always enjoy your articles and always appreciate your dedication to the Pack…I thank you for that.
    This article associating pro wrestling with the NFL is nonsence, I couldnt even finish..
    Though the league providing education is appropiate, it is not and should not be their job to babysit these men.
    These men understand what they subject themselves to when they pridefully and willfully suit up week in and week out…
    If you want to be criticle of the perscription drug abuse then direct those feelings at the drug companies, the Dr.’s that hand them out like candy, and the Gov’t which allows these companies to inundate us with the latest and greatest highly addictive pillars.
    All of these ex players jumping on the concussion band wagon need to step off.. MagicMan, Chewey, etc. It is because of people like you that this game is being ruined..
    These are all men who suit up and go to battle with full knowledge that they have chosen a carreer with a short life span that has inherent risks which they are also quite handsomely compensated for.

    • Ron LC

      Couldn’t agree more with your thesis yoop. Unfortunately, there’s money and at least a significant number of ex-players trying to cash in on the latest legal scheme to create yet another cash store for the “victims” and their lawyers. It is looked at as free money and if offered they will come.

      Hence, Goodell is extending his authoity over playing requirements to the point where the game is being changed. So far it hasn’t hurt the appeal of the sport. The D’s are being savaged by restrictions, but the O’s are benefiting and so far it’s a wash.

      If the 100 or so players wno filed suit last week are successful in their claim that the NFL didn’t tell them about the long-term impact of concussions, what restrictions are next?

      To repeat, I’m afraid!

    • Adam Czech

      If you would have finished reading the post, you would have seen that I made the same point you make about the league babysitting.

  • Pat Mc

    Be Afraid! Be very afraid.

    I too played in grade school, a parochial grade school that is no longer open.

    I too played in high school and in the navy.

    I was asked to play for a college team that then was disbanded.

    In my first corporate job I joined the companies flag football team and suffered my “first real concussion” that I remember. I was blacked out for the whole day.

    Now the lawyers are circling. I know one of the lawyers for the old NFL players, and reality is most of us had injuries outside of football in the frozen yards at half time during games, playing flag football and playing catch.

    I’m not sure where it is going but more awareness of head injuries is needed.

    I’m on medication for depression and I’m’ not blaming the NFL as I never played in the NFL, but????

    • Ron LC

      Pat, :) you documented the progression of our lawyer driven world quite well.

  • packbuck

    I’m with Pat Mc…

    I don’t like NFL players suing. I think they were happy to get paid when they signed up. However, concussions are nothing to mess with.

    I had one playing basketball several years ago that triggered Meniere’s disease at 35 when a guy drove his knee into my head after I took a charge. Life hasn’t been easy ever since. I’ve had two brain surgeries and have had to learn how to walk again twice.

    By the way, I haven’t taken a sick day from work in over a year and a half.

    Hell-to-the-yeah & GO PACK.

    Thank you Ted for drafting DEFENSE!!!

  • Adam Czech

    Most of the comments seem to be focused on the lawsuits involving former NFL players. The point of my post wasn’t to take a stance either way on that issue. Personally, I don’t think the former players have much of a shot at winning that battle, but who knows.

    The main point I was trying to emphasize is what the NFL can do now to address health concerns, and the importance of taking the issue seriously instead of ignoring it until it becomes a major problem. I think the NFL has taken steps in the right direction and I’d like to see it continue.

    • Ron LC

      For your discussion it can be seperated. For pruposes of legal ramifications it can’t. Hence, Goodell will continue to dictate changes that will effect the style of play allowed. And, ultimately the quality of play.

  • homerunsimpson

    Concussions are a major problem. Whats an even bigger problem are what theyre doing to the game. The league is getting softer and softer, which is ruining the game. Safety is important, but football isnt a safe game and everyone knows that. I dont mean to come off as a jerk, but something can be done without sacrificing the integrity of the game. LIke the whole helmet to helmet thing with qb’s are bullcrap. Play football for crying out loud. In regards to mr. Seau- tragic loss for his family and the community. NFL should screen former players for depression.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080118115428.htm

  • Steve Cheez

    Thanks Adam, well said.

  • tlvincent4

    It bothers me that they can’t come up with some far superior technology for helmets, to protect players brains, and to maybe make them less of a weapon on the outside. Guys feel too protected in these helmets, have you ever picked up an NFL helmet? Its heavy, like a metal/plastic weapon. Furthermore, I don’t know Seau’s situation, but I can imagine that its beyond tough to adjust to life after 20 years of football. I think many of these diehards would have an easier post player life if they stayed in the game as a coach,assistant,scout,etc.

  • super yooper

    The lawsuits have made the league take this issue seriously…Hence all of the valid points of new rule changes causing a pass happy, offense orientated league…It’s soon to become a powder puff league(exagerated)..
    This is FOOTBALL(a full contact sport) not the NBA …or pro wrestling for that matter…
    The forefathers of this league who made hard sacrifices would be rolling in their graves if they could see what this league is turning into…
    Again, educating these men and providing them with some direction towards counseling is absolutely appropriate.
    Off field issues such as depression, addiction, and bodily wear and tear from making a living by doing something that you love should be handled OFF the field and not in the field of play…
    #savethegame

  • aaronqb

    Seau’s death was tragic. But, we have no idea about the cause. Maybe it was head trauma, maybe it was drug/alcohol abuse, maybe it something like difficulty in leaving the glory of the gridiron. Before we start jumping to conclusions about what caused this and what can be done to prevent these things, let’s first find out why it happened.

    • Oppy

      Hercules Hernandez was either dating or engaged to a woman who lived in my smallish suburban hometown when I was in high school.

      Every once in a while during summer, you would be driving down the street and see him out front of the house, pushing an old-school lawnmower around. He absolutely dwarfed that thing, he was a monster.

      It was always a surreal picture, helped in no small way by the fact the driveway of this particular house was brightly painted with a tropical sunset motif featuring a very large pink flamingo..

      Strange random memory I’d never had thought about again if it weren’t for seeing the name “hercules” in this article in a wrestling context.

      • Ron LC

        Random memory is better than no memory. From a victim of too many concussions. Not really! :)

  • Rick

    Adam,
    Great article. I think the NFLPA as a recognized union needs to be leading the charge on these issues and not the NFL. They should work together but the union is there for the players to collectively bargain on their behalf. This is a major issue and the players need to decide what they will do about it and then negotiate with the NFL to provide the best reasonable health care, post career education and job assistance.

  • Normthe1

    Okay, before I go any further I want to say that I’m not jumping on any bandwagon, just spitballing…

    I’m Australian, but I love the NFL. We play both kinds of Rugby here, Union and League. Rugby League translates most closely to NFL when comparing the hits. We get concussions here too, but not in the numbers that the NFL does, using no official figures, just my personal observances, however the big difference is that we don’t wear helmets.

    Stop right there, don’t just move on, I’m not trying to change YOUR game, I’m just saying that WE don’t wear helmets and we don’t seem to get as many concussions. The post at 9. interested me because he/she said how heavy the helmet was. I think thats an interesting point. I’ve never even held an NFL helmet but if a player has almost complete confidence in his helmet, is he more likely to lead with it? I watch 3-4 NFL games every week and I see it happen nearly every game. I really believe that NFL tackling techniques are behind Rugby League or if not, then they are poorly coached.

    Would you guys consider it ‘ruining’ the game if helmets got lighter and, for want of a better word, flimsier?

    I only ask because we have legislated the head high tackle out of our game, some would say to the game’s detriment. But, its still a good game and players and coaches have adjusted and there is total agreement that the game is now safer from 10-20 years ago where you were a good chance to take a few shots to the head over the course of a game.

    Please, please understand that I’m not bashing the NFL or trying to demasculinise it in any way. I’m just saying that here in Australia we have gone through what you are going through now and its not the end of the world. I can see what Goodell is trying to do because I’ve seen it happen here.

    I just think that in this litigious world, Goodell has no choice but to legislate a way to reduce concussions.

    Cheers guys, I look forward to any replies/rebuttals/refutements…

    • BTF

      Great post !

      Likewise as a a foreign NFL fan and ex rugby player (both codes) some of the tackling techniques in the NFL make me wince. The emphasis in the NFL seems to be more on the hit with wrapping up a secondary concern.

      Only thing I would say is I was coached as a youngster that if in doubt tackle low as going high you’re more likely to be fended or bounce off. Going low in the NFL leaves you liable to be hurdled or indeed suffering a Nick Collins like injury so a straight comparison of techniques isn’t really possible.

      I fully agree though that Goodell has little choice and while some might not like what he is doing it is certainly possible to make a game safer without removing physicality and courage or indeed the role of defenses.

  • Oppy

    I could be very wrong on this- correct me if I am- but I don’t believe these players are just suing because the NFL is not a safe sport. It’s clear that all of these athletes would have known by the time they went pro that injuries happen, happen a lot, and can have dire consequences.

    I have been under the impression that the legal issue here is that the NFL and its doctors knew more about the possible long term ramifications of head injuries, but not only down played them, but also perhaps intentionally misdiagnosed head trauma on the field, using misnomers and slang like “getting your clock cleaned”, “got your bell rung”, or “got dinged” instead of informing players “You have a concussion” and pulling them from the game.

    I have assumed this is not just about injury, both immediate and long term, but about the NFL, its doctors, and its coaches not being forthright with its players, not giving the players all the available information that pertained to their health, etc and so forth, as well as a possibly all-out cover up over the years specifically in regards to the long term effects of multiple concussions sustained during players’ careers.

    I think this may be closer to the smoking lawsuits from a few decades ago- everyone knew smoking wasn’t good for you- but the tobacco companies had implicit details on the risks, and not only buried those findings, but continually denied any real risk. That is deplorable, and if that is what has been going on with the NFL in regards to player health, they deserve to take it in the pocketbook hard.

    Final thought: I’ve always wondered why the NFL doesn’t take every single cent of revenue generated from fining players for illegal hits (and/or other illegal actions that put other players unnecessarily in harm’s way) and pledge it directly to NFL alumnus in need of financial assistance for health problems/surgeries that are resultant from their NFL careers…

    • Adam Czech

      I’m no lawyer, but if a coach tells a player he just got his bell rung and he should go back in the game, shouldn’t the coach be getting sued instead of the NFL?

      I suppose if the NFL didn’t share concussion info with player, the league would be culpable, but it just seems like winning a class-action lawsuit in this instance would be difficult. Not saying the NFL is innocent, just seems like it’d be hard to explicitly prove guilt in court.

  • packbuck

    I don’t watch enough AFL to really comment too much Normthe1… I do watch one game a week. This week I saw Collingwood vs the Bombers–incredible game!!! I think their are so many more concussions in the NFL because the players line up and re-start after every play. In AFL the field seems so much more spread out. I do see chances for concussions on balls that go for marks on long distances near the goal or throw ins, but perhaps you’re right about NFL players thinking they’re invincible with their helmets on.

    • Normthe1

      Right sentiment Packbuck, but wrong game unfortunately. The game you are talking about is indeed AFL but the game I’m talking about is NRL (National Rugby League). The NRL lines up two teams and basically resets them (sort of) after each tackle with a play the ball through the legs of the player tackled, but without the clock stopping.

      If you want a graphic example of the sorts of hits I am talking about, do a Youtube search of “NRL big hits” or state of origin big hits”. There you will see that the tackling is similar enough to compare to NFL, but we don’t have helmets so its only natural that players protect their own heads (to a degree) and their opponents (to a lesser degree historically) but its improving.

      Again, I’m not saying our game is better, to tell you the truth, I lean towards NFL and I will tell you for free that I don’t follow any of the Australian games off seasons like I do with the NFL, I’m hooked.

      Oh, and I’m quietly chuffed to bits that I had my first post go ‘yellow’, I’m glad you all took it the right way…

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